May 20, 2007

Selflessness Vs. Self-Interest

Last Wednesday I jumped on the opportunity of listening to Gurcharan Das in person. Gurcharan is the former CEO of Procter & Gamble India and is a leading thought leader. I make sure I read his bi-weekly column in the Sunday Times. Though the occasion was the eve of the International Telecom Day celebrated by the IEEE at Hyderabad's Viswesvaraya Bhavan, he chose to expand the scope and cover what is bogging India today.

"One is the idea of selflessness and how it does not help making a nation prosperous. The likes of our Communists, Medha Patkars and even Mother Teresa, are at times condescendingly presumptuous that their acts help bring the nation prosperity. Their attitude ridicules people who espouse self-interest as not self-less. Our politicians too romanticise heroic acts of selflessness rather than encourage enilghtened initiative which stems from self-interest.

"Take an example of a carpenter using a cellphone - he is able to take more customer calls and plan his day better and make more money. The cellphone as a technology device increases his productivity and hence adds to the nation's wealth. Neither Nokia, nor Mr Mittal (of Airtel), nor the cellphone dealer, not even the carpenter is engaged in selfless behaviour here - yet their combined actions have resulted in a massive revolution in the nation's productivity and wealth! As Adam Smith said about this more than 200 years ago - 'The invisible hand that transforms self-interested behaviour to the good of society and the prosperity of the nation'.

"Selfishness and Self-interest are two different things with the latter being guided by principles of wealth creation. Perhaps Bhishma was wrong in The Mahabharata, when he took a self-less vow to remain celibate. Had he demonstrated self-interest by growing the clan, the history of India would have taken a different turn!"


Anonymous said...

Everybody in this country, maybe everybody in the world should be given a lesson in economics - value is indeed created out of thin air, and people acting in self interest (subject to law, of course), can unwittingly make society prosperous.

Ram said...

Agreed. a couple of pages primer that talks about wealth generation will surely help. unfortunately the whole 'socialism' dialogue has been hijacked by those who don't know a paisa about wealth generation, but profess to be well versed in treatises like 'das capital'!

Anonymous said...

Good thinking. But what we are going to do with wealth creation? Except polluting the environment.